No Fun on the Day of the Sun

By Mike Cronin

Disclaimer: I currently work for the US Air Force. The opinions expressed below are mine alone.

What’s all the fuss about with North Korea? They are always making threats.  Why do things seem more dangerous this time around?

Every year on this date (April 15th) while Americans are contending with getting their tax returns postmarked on time, North Korea celebrates “Day of the Sun,” in commemoration of the late Kim Il-sung’s birthday. Kim Il-sung was the founder of North Korea, and is still the Head of State and officially revered as the “Dear Leader,” a god in all but name.  The birthday celebration is the biggest “holiday” in North Korea, and is celebrated with military parades and usually some form of demonstration of military might, such as missile test-launches.

North Korea has announced it will do something spectacular this particular Day of the Sun; the concern is that the “something spectacular” will be the underground detonation of a nuclear device, in violation of UN sanctions.

In addition to celebrating the “Day of the Sun,” North Korea also has a habit of stirring up diplomatic and military trouble to see what they can get away with whenever there is a new US President. The current North Korean regime, led by Kim’s grandson, Kim Chong-un, has been testing Mr. Trump’s administration by launching missiles over the Sea of Japan.  Given that North Korea is believed to have chemical weapons and has allegedly test-detonated nuclear devices before, and that they claim to have produced nuclear warheads that can fit on a missile, these launches have been extremely provocative to South Korea, Japan and the United States.

You may recall the recent launch of Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria in retaliation for the Bashad Regime’s use of chemical weapons against rebels, and the use of the “MOAB” bomb to destroy an ISIS tunnel complex in Afghanistan.  Those actions have not escaped the North Koreans.  The first demonstrated that President Trump favors action over diplomacy as a direct response to aggression, and that US cruise missiles can hit their targets, even when they have to go through heavily defended airspace (such as North Korea’s).  The second demonstrated that tunnels and underground bunkers (such as the North Korean military favors) are no guarantee of safety from conventional US weapons.

USS Carl Vinson battle Group Steams Towards Korean Waters

Kadena AB “Elephant Walk” 

Osan AB “Elephant Walk”

A US aircraft carrier battle group is steaming towards the Korean Peninsula, and there have been two no-notice “elephant walk” show-of-force exercises at Kadena and Osan air bases in recent days.  On top of that, the rhetoric is escalating, making for a tense situation.

Perhaps the most serious indication of trouble is that China has announced it will move 150,000 troops to the region of its border with North Korea, and is calling for cool heads to prevail.

The North Korean regime is like a crime family headed by the selected Kim heir.  They are hideously brutal to their own people and bellicose to the rest of the world. I would not mourn their loss. The trick is to demonstrate US resolve while leaving Kim a way to de-escalate without losing face. Not that he deserves to be let off the hook, but if we leave the North Korean regime with no options, their response could leave our administration without options – and that could ultimately put us into conflict with China.

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Random Matter 2

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By Mike Cronin

The tidal wave of angst unleashed by the election of Donald Trump is not wholly explainable by his crudity, political outsider status, media and polling industry failures, hacked emails, possible election tampering, or Hillary Clinton’s campaign style.

For too long, the beltway establishment has been driving this country down a two-lane country road that ends at a cliff: tyranny. When the liberals where at the wheel, the conservatives would call the cliff “socialism” and say the Democrats were racing us towards it, while the liberals would say that conservatives were steering us headlong towards the “fascism” cliff when Republicans had the wheel.

It was always the same cliff.

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Now the liberals are howling that Trump will stomp on the accelerator, and the “Never Trump” branch of the conservative establishment isn’t sure that he won’t do just that.  Nor am I.

What I am more confident of is that for perhaps only a brief moment, by electing Trump, the passengers have made ALL of the drivers slow down and take notice of the impending danger. Even if Trump turns out to be wise at the wheel, we may be in for a period of painful adjustment.

***

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Have you ever been irritated by Pecksniffian pipsqueaks who take any statement that does not absolutely validate or corroborate what they say and allege it means exactly the opposite?

Pipsqueak: We have to raise the minimum wage for the poor. (Sips his latte.)

Host: But won’t that mean there will be fewer jobs?

Pipsqueak: Hate speech! What do you have against poor people?  Are you a one-percenter? I can’t believe we still have troglodytes like you in this country!

Host:  But I was just-

Pipsqueak: I have to go. My limo is double parked, and I’m late for therapy.

***

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Congress is now considering bills that would make it mandatory for females to register for the draft with Selective Service.  In my opinion, obligatory service of any kind is anathema to freedom.  You cannot protect freedom by taking it away. It is also not very effective to staff a high-tech, professional military with conscripts. It takes an inordinate amount of effort to train, motivate, and discipline people who are potentially there against their will…though it can, and has, been done.

It is far more efficient, effective, and easier to train qualified and self-motivated volunteers.

Wisely, the US stopped the draft in 1973…but unwisely kept the Selective Service, and is now taking a step in the wrong direction, IMO.  Instead of making females register, it should stop requiring anyone to register!

On the other hand, I would be in favor of examining the idea that we stop automatically conferring citizenship by birthright.  The idea that one should have to earn citizenship, with public service being one avenue to that end, has some interesting potential.

Murderers’ Lives don’t Matter

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By Mike Cronin

Black lives matter, but Black Lives Matter doesn’t matter so much.  Cop’s lives matter, but the lives of murderous cops and cop murderers not so much. French lives matter, and so do the lives of nightclub partiers, but their jihadi killers not so much. School kids and theater goers and political rally attendees’ lives’ matter, but their lunatic assassins not so much. Kurdish lives matter and Shi’ite lives matter, but Saddam Hussein’s not so much. New Yorker’s lives matter, and servicemen’s lives matter, and airplane passenger’s lives matter, but Osama bin Laden not so much.

One of the supposed horrors of war is the dehumanization of an enemy – but who is doing the dehumanizing?

One of my brothers is a police officer.  He once had to shoot a man who would have otherwise shot him.  It was a case of “suicide by cop,” a phenomenon where a suicidal person decides to credibly threaten police officers with deadly force, thereby leaving the officers  little choice but to defend themselves and shoot first.  My brother regretted that he had to take such drastic action, but he felt very little remorse for the man he had to shoot, and rightly so, for the “man” gave up his heritage of reason the moment he pointed his gun at my brother.  Our ability to reason and to make value judgments is the thing that separates us from animal barbarism. Negating that ability is a reversion to the animal.

One of the “narratives” energizing social media is a call to end hate and live in peace.  Most of us don’t hate.  I know I usually don’t have the time or energy for it.  It has been said that the opposite of love is not hate, its apathy.

I contend that people that recognize other individuals as distinct human beings and treat them as if they matter, matter. Conversely, those few monsters among us who fail to recognize the most basic reality of human life, the distinctiveness and value of individuals and their right to exist, and act on that failed recognition to rape, torture, and kill, are dehumanizing others. In so doing, they dehumanize themselves, and forfeit any moral claims they have to rights. They have morally ceased to matter, and they don’t deserve the energy it takes to hate them.  They deserve instead our revulsion and apathy – in the same way we are repelled by, yet apathetic about, cockroaches.  When cockroaches remain in the sewer, we let them be, but when they intrude into our lives? We exterminate them.

Storm Warning: Orlando

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By Mike Cronin

There are many aspects to the tragedy in Orlando that defy reason, but we may yet be able to put many of the chaotic elements into context and derive some small degree of understanding.

Keep in mind the following as you watch the news and listen to the pundits and demagogues:

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, the news networks’ primary job is to sell advertising. They will dwell on every aspect of this story as long as they can in order to keep you coming back to watch commercials find out the latest breaking wrinkle.

The anti-gun fanatics will exploit our fears in order to advance their agenda to ban ___ (take your pick of anything gun or gun-related).  They’ll be sure to shout that this was the worst shooting in US history.  That might be true if you discount several massacres of Native Americans and the Civil War; I don’t know.

Pro-gun zealots will exploit the fear that the left is coming to take our freedom. They will jump up and down to expose every error the anti-gunners make about the specific gun used, how it was obtained, and about how it is already illegal to have a firearm inside a place that serves alcohol in Florida, so gun bans demonstrably don’t work.

Strident religious groups will be in a hurry to tell us that what happened in Orlando was God’s punishment for the sinful behavior of the club’s clientele.  In fact, one such group, ISIS, took credit for the attack!

Let’s try to unscrew ourselves from the ceiling a bit and put some more context to this storm:

Was it the worst mass-shooting in US history?   Ever hear of Bear River (~250 dead), Sand Creek (up to 163 dead), or Wounded Knee (150 dead)? They were but three of dozens of massacres of Native Americans committed in the 1800s.  How about the various battles of the Civil War (~600,000 dead)? (Granted, some might say those events don’t count because they weren’t “crimes” or terrorist attacks; instead, they were (directly or indirectly) government operations. I think that not only do they count, they exemplify the very reason we must not give up the right to keep and bear arms!)

Was it the worst terrorist attack on US soil? No; that was 9/11. (~3000 dead).

Surely it was the worst domestic terrorist attack?  Nope. That dubious title goes to the Oklahoma City bombing. (168 dead)

Nor was Orlando the worst nightclub attack; that distinction belongs to the “Happy Land” club arson fire in the Bronx in 1990 (87 dead).

It does look like Orlando might actually be the worst attack on the LBGT community; though there was an attack nearly as bad in 1973: 32 were killed at the “Upstairs Club” arson attack in New Orleans.

To like-minded folk that believe the second amendment is under attack and should not be infringed upon any further:  Yes, the anti-gunners will shamelessly exploit mass shootings.  We don’t need to follow their example and squawk and honk at each inaccuracy or inane statement made while the tape is still around the crime scene and the blood is still on the floor.  Those rounds are largely wasted.  Save them for the letters to the editor and to your politicians.  Let the anti-gunners make their mistakes in the heat of the moment.

As for the religious condemnation: If you believe Jesus was the son of God, then ask yourself: what would Jesus do?  Would he kill homosexuals?  Would he add salt to their wounds after such a tragedy by saying they were killed because they were sinful? Most especially, would he do that just to get attention? If he wouldn’t do those things, it might be wise to follow his example.

If you are a radical Muslim jihadist, I know that nothing I write here will sway you in any way. Even so, I must say it. If you purport to be a devout member of the so-called religion of “peace,” what is peaceful about slaughtering people whose behavior you don’t approve of, either here or in Syria, or Iraq, or the rest of the world where Islam holds sway?

If ISIS was indeed ultimately behind this attack, what have you gained? All you have accomplished is to show your clients and constituents that one jihadi with a gun and a lot of ammo can kill a lot of unarmed people.  And….what? Is this supposed to terrify us? We are not terrified. Is it supposed to gain you recruits?  You’ve caused just as many, or more, to deplore your cause.

We live in an era with instant news and constant competition for our attention. We are in the middle of one of the most contentious election cycles in recent memory. We are in a shooting conflict with ISIS. The Orlando massacre served as a catalyst to energize a storm of bloviating. We can let it die down a bit so we can hear ourselves think before making hasty conclusions.

Is it a Conspiracy? Who Gains?

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By Mike Cronin

As we saw last week, Occam’s razor is one tool for helping us avoid falling into the trap of believing in every conspiracy theory that comes along.  Another way to evaluate conspiracy theories for credibility is by asking the simple question: Who stands to gain?  In 1998, when Hillary Clinton was First Lady, she alleged that there was a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to besmirch her husband over the Monica Lewisnky scandal.  The political right certainly made every attempt to tarnish her husband for his indiscretion, but that was not a conspiracy, it was simply opposition politics. The right stood to gain by impeaching the president, but it didn’t take any secret cabal to put together a smear campaign; each individual pundit and politician was able to drum up outrage on his own! On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton stood to gain if she could rally support by painting herself as the embattled victim fighting for truth and dignity, so she let fly with the allegation, and it became one of the most often-cited Hillary quotes.  When the president from one party provides his opposition with the ingredients of a scandal, OF COURSE the opposition will take advantage of the opportunity!  That’s not a conspiracy, it’s an axiom!

Like the “vast conspiracy” against the Clintons, sometimes the activity of a conspiracy theory is credible, but the motives and/or competence ascribed to the perpetrators are dubious: The political right is fond of alleging that the left controls the education system and is intentionally dumbing down our kids through Common Core, campus speech codes, revisionist history curricula, etc.  As with the right’s non-conspiratorial opposition to the Clintons, the state of our education system need not be attributed to a conspiracy of the left. Instead, the state of our education system is the accumulated results of long-term government control.  OF COURSE a government-controlled education system is going to promote and advance a pro-government agenda! That’s not a conspiracy, it’s an axiom!

Let’s look at another example:

Some allege that the wars in Iraq (Desert Storm in 1991, Iraqi Freedom beginning in 2003) were all about oil. It is easy to fan that flame, as Dick Chenney (President Bush Sr’s Secretary of Defense, and Bush Jr’s Vice President) was the CEO of Haliburton (a huge company that provides all manner of services to the oil industry) in between the Bushes presidencies. In the sense that the Bush administrations conspired to go to war in order to gain personal control of Iraqi oil, the answer is doubtful, as Iraqi oil remains under Iraqi control. However, there is a more credible context under which “oil” can be held as the reason for the wars: Saddam Hussein took over Kuwait and threatened to invade Saudi Arabia (his forces actually did cross the border at Najaf). That meant he held a significant portion of the world’s oil reserves (and therefore the lifeblood of international commerce) at risk. OF COURSE the Iraq Wars were about oil! That’s not a conspiracy, it’s an axiom…but not the same one some conspiracy theorists would have us believe.

Often, though, the conspiracy theories are just ludicrous. From the 1990s onward, the term “black helicopters” has picked up the connotation among believers that nefarious forces under the auspices of the United Nations patrol the US and engage in clandestine activities designed to bring about a “New World Order.”  IF such forces exist, and IF they used helicopters for transportation, it is highly unlikely they would adopt a “signature” that would defeat their efforts to remain hidden.

“Chemtrails” is another ridiculous theory. Supposedly, “they” are using jet airliners to spray mysterious chemical agents across the nation for unknown purposes.  The evidence: Contrails. Occam’s razor leaves us no guesswork here: The simplest explanation for contrails is that they are CONTRAILS, not weaponized chemical clouds. Who stands to gain?  The charlatans selling “reports” on chemtrails.

Probably one of the looniest has to be the flat earthers.  Yes, there are still people out there who believe the world is flat.  In order to swallow that pill, you have to ignore or evade absolutely proven scientific facts. For example, you have to believe that every photo and bit of video from orbit showing the curvature of the earth has been faked. That would require that all space programs across the globe have conspired to tell the same lie to billions of people since the USSR launched Sputnik in 1957. The real conspiracy here is the one being perpetrated by the theorists themselves in furthering this drivel.

“What is more likely, a complicated scenario that requires tortured logic to arrive at, or the simple explanation?” “Who stands to benefit, the alleged conspirators, or the person alleging the conspiracy?” When you examine a conspiracy theory and ask a few simple questions, OF COURSE you’ll get a much better sense of the theorists’ credibility!

Battlefield Christmas

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By Mike Cronin

Like many wars, the so-called War on Christmas is senseless. The flames are being fanned by ogres on both sides.

To hear non-Christians tell it, Christians are trying to impose their religion on everybody else with the greeting “Merry Christmas,” nativity scenes, and the like, or they say that the predominance of Christian trappings are offensive to non-Christians, and that any such displays set on government property constitute an official “establishment of religion” in violation of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights. The most vocal anti-Christmas militants are just looking for attention more than resolution.  If this argument were settled, they’d be stirring a different pot.

The most strident Christian voices are driven by the same motivation as the anti-Christians.  They’d be tilting at another windmill if this one wasn’t available. To hear them tell it, they are being persecuted for their beliefs. They argue that the true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the son of the one true God, who is acknowledged (at least as a prophet if not the messiah) in Judaism and Islam; thus Christmas should be no more offensive to adherents of those faiths than Hanukah or Eid al-Fitr is to Christians, and that accommodation to atheists, pagans, and other non-believers is not a factor due to their relative scarcity in our society.  Extremists argue that Christian decorations on government facilities do not violate the First Amendment because the adornments acknowledge the most prevalent belief system of the people, but do not compel anyone to adopt those beliefs.

Let’s see if we can shed some light into this dark corner.

The termChristmas” certainly does pertain to the birth of Jesus Christ. But humans have been having winter solstice festivals with lights, gift-giving, gathering to make merry, and breaks from labor since before the current calendar existed and even before Jesus was born.  Our ancestors were celebrating the end of the fall harvest and chasing away depression during the darkest time of the year.  The Romans called these seasonal celebrations Saturnalia or Natalis Invicti. Norsemen celebrated jól (Yule), a similar pre-Christian winter solstice festival, and origin of the seasonal term “Yuletide.” There are a host of other winter solstice traditions and festivals around the world.

The fact that winter solstice festivals pre-date Christmas as the celebration of the birth of Jesus is not seriously disputed by Christian scholars.  Christians that insist that Christmas pertains only to the birth of Christ and, by extension, that the true meaning of Christmas commemorates his teachings, are right at the literal level and wrong at the historical level. They are accurate only in the context of strict application of the term “Christmas,” but they are evading the larger fact that there is no hard evidence that Jesus was born on December 25th (or any specific date, for that matter). They are also evading the evidence that the Church has a history of absorbing the holidays and festivals of other groups, including solstice celebrations, and spinning them to its own ends.

Yet the mystery of the exact date of Jesus’ birthday predates this phenomenon. The bible does not give a date for Jesus’ birth.  According to biblical historian Andrew McGowan, celebrations of Jesus’ birth were not recorded until about 200-300 years after his death. In fact, early Christians avoided attempts to celebrate Jesus’ birth because they associated birth celebrations with paganism.  Even today, exact date placement varies among various Christian sects.  (Note that Eastern Orthodox Christians still celebrate Christmas on or near January 7th; (Western) Christians refer to this date as the Epiphany and place it on January 6th. There are 12 Days of Christmas between the December 25th and January 6th!)

Specifying a precise date of December 25th as Jesus’ birthday was more likely an attempt by the earliest Christians (who were being persecuted) to either rationalize joining in the existing celebrations and/or to use those celebration to provide “cover” for their own. Constantine converting to Christianity in the mid fourth century marks the time when Christianity began to gain supremacy as the religious tradition of the west, and pagan festivals and feasts were subsequently “Christianized” as a matter of policy. In this way, strident Christians are susceptible to the accusation that their religion re-branded solstice festivals as Christmas and bent it to their own ends.

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The so-called war on Christmas is being waged in ignorance – from both sides. Anti-Christian scrooges would have us believe Christian greetings, decorations and sentiments are offensive and even illegal. Christian grinches would have us believe Christmas only exists to celebrate Jesus’ birth and teachings, and all other interpretations are wrong, offensive to Christian values, and even heretical. Both are right…to a very shallow point.  The power behind each side’s argument is not derived from superficial facts that evade historical context, it is generated by your willingness to listen uncritically and act on their messages.  I choose not to do so; I’ll be too busy enjoying celebrating the season with friends and family.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

When Everything is a Crisis, Nothing is a Crisis

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By Mike Cronin

Dear politicians, intellectuals, pressure-group leaders, and media mouths,

All day every day you bombard us with crisis after crisis. Drugs. Guns. War. Climate. Celebrity drama. International tensions. Rape culture. Income inequality. Racism. Sexism. Immigration. Political correctness. The list goes on ad-nauseam. Most are real issues that need reasoned efforts to solve or mitigate, but you spin them into crises, then you anoint yourselves as experts and saviors that can save us – if only we turn over our rights, our money, or our reason (or all three!) to you.

We understand that at some level you have to market and advertise your issue, your ideals, your narrative.  On the other hand, you need to understand that at some point we will succumb to crisis fatigue and stop caring about your cherry-picked and manicured emergencies.  We will become apathetic.  Most of you don’t want that; you want your pet cause to be solved or cured. But some of you do want an apathetic populace.  An apathetic populace is ripe for manipulation by a charismatic tyrant.

If you are one of the public figures I opened this letter to, and you genuinely want your problem solved, dial down the urgency settings on your rhetoric or you will defeat yourself!

If you are a tyrant in waiting:  know that your tactic is exposed.  You are not fooling anyone.

That is all.